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The Dales Way: Part 1 - Ilkley to Grassington Sponsored by: Mickledore Walking Holidays


Ilkley to Grassington
Grassington to Yockenthwaite
Yockenthwaite to Dent
Dent to Kendal
Kendal to Bowness


The Dales Way runs from Ilkley in West Yorkshire to the shores of Lake Windermere. The majority of the walk passes through the Yorkshire Dales National Park, over moors, across limestone pavements, through valleys and alongside rivers. It gives a unique taste of this famous park to the walker. The walk leaves the dales for its final quarter as it crosses into Cumbria, fringing the Howgill Fells before culminating in the Lake District National Park on the banks of Lake Windermere. This long distance walk is particular memorable and its length of just over 76 miles is the perfect introduction to first time long distance walkers.

Recommended Maps:

The following Ordnance Survey Explorer maps (1:25 000) cover the Dales Way and are listed in order of coverage as one would use them walking from Ilkley to Bowness on Windermere.

Planning: I planned the walk during the winter of 2002/03 and aimed to complete it during the Easter holidays. I chose to do it in five days so I could finish it on the Thursday, the day before Good Friday. I organised the accommodation having worked out all my stops by using the distance gauge on the Dales Way web site. For searching the web for accommodation I used the SH Systems site. It lists lots of hotels and guest houses for popular UK destinations and can be sorted by grading, price and location. Finally, once I had sorted out what I was going to do I let my pals know my plans. Fortunately Steve was able to join me on all but the first and last days. Now all was prepared and I had just the walk to do. Follow Steve and I on the walk on this and the following Dales Way pages.

Map of the Dales Way walk - Ilkley to Grassington

elevation profile

Start: Ilkley Bridge Estimated Time: 7 hours
Start (OS ref): SE117478 Difficulty: Moderate
Finish: Grassington town centre Total Climbing: 519 metres
Finish (OS ref): SE002639 Longest Climb: 81 metres
Maps: OS Explorer 297, OL2
(see above for details)
Longest Descent: 79 metres
  Hazards: Some road crossings
Distance: 16.3 miles (26.3 km) Refreshments: Ilkley, Addingham, Bolton Estate
Movie Filmstrip - View all the photographs Steve and I took on the walk here

Part 1 - Ilkley to Grassington (16.3 miles)

After a night out with friends in Otley I woke up excited at the prospect of the walk. An extra spur was the enjoyable conversation I would get for the majority of the walk in the company of my good friend Steve Scott. It was Steve that introduced me to walking in the first place and he, along with my brother Dave is a regular walking companion, particularly on long distance paths. I am lucky to have these two walking companions and it was a shame Dave could not make it this time. At least Dave and my soon to be wife Lil were with us at Ilkley Old Bridge to see us off. The customary start picture was taken and then we were off towards our first staging post, 16 miles on in Grassington. This first stage is spent exclusively in the company of the River Wharfe as we follow its path upstream. We will follow this beautiful river all the way to its source at Oughtershaw. The Dales Way is full of interest from the start and as soon as we left Ilkley the views from the riverbank were inspiring as we made our way along the banks of the river towards High Mill, an old woollen mill built in 1780 and then quaint village of Addingham. Look to the right and view famous Ilkley Moor. As you leave it behind the rolling hills around the Skipton area come into view to your left and the hills of Beamsley and Hazelwood with Storiths close on your right. After Addingham there is a meeting with history and Augustinian monks to anticipate.

Starting the Dales Way Approaching Bolton Abbey on the Dales Way
Steve and I excitedly await the off at Ilkley Approaching Bolton Priory

The village of Bolton Abbey is a confusing name for it makes visitors assume it is home to an Abbey. This is misleading for it is home to a priory built by Augustinian Monks in the 12th century. Take time to view the magnificent building and then move on continuing to follow the river towards Strid Wood. If you are walking this section in summer and particularly at the weekend you will find yourself surrounded by families and occasional walkers. This is a very popular outdoors location for the people of industrial West Yorkshire and gets extremely busy. One advantage of this is you can enjoy a lovely pot of tea at the cafe at the entrance to the wood if you feel so inclined. We did! The wood is full of nature trails and is dominated by sessile oak trees. There are also holly and sycamore to be found, as well as lots of wonderful small plants and flowers, particularly bluebells in the springtime. Despite these distractions as you climb over rocky outcrops on the well defined paths you will find your eyes are drawn downwards to the waters of the Wharfe make their way through the gorge. The river is a dramatic sight in the Strid as it narrows and forces itself over huge boulders. Several fast flowing sections and waterfalls are to be seen as the river narrows even more and in some sections to the extent that people feel they can leap over the span. It is not recommended and there have been fatalities in this area, notably a just married couple not too long ago. Eventually the Strid is left behind but despair not, there are more sights ahead.

The River Wharfe on the Dales Way The Strid on the Dales Way
The Wharfe flowing through Strid Wood After the Strid you arrive at this stone footbridge

Once you emerge out of the relative darkness of the wood the eyes are diverted to a grand old stone footbridge. The bridge serves no purpose other than allowing walkers to cross to the far bank of the river and walk back along the Strid on the other side. For us there was no need to cross. (Don Langley contacted me about the bridge. He told me that the bridge was built by Bradford Waterworks as a viaduct, not just a footbridge. Thanks for the correction Don) We had walked through the Strid on the eastern bank, an option on the Dales Way and continued to do so, now an obligation for the next half mile to Barden Bridge. As you approach the bridge a ruined building can be seen standing above the far bank. The ruin is the remains of Barden Tower. The tower was originally built in the 11th century and restored in 1657. The buildings have served local gentry as a small castle complete with chapel but are now abandoned. The structure is well worth a visit if you feel like a short stiff walk up the road from the bridge. For us, as we had seen it many times before it was time for a different diversion. Steve and I thought it was the appropriate moment for an ice cream so we stopped and sat by the bridge to enjoy a rare treat. After sufficient time to enjoy our confectionary we set off to continue our Dales Way journey. The immediate stretch after Barden Bridge is less claustrophobic than what had preceded as the hills give way to a wide valley floor. Consequently the river is much quieter here as it flows gently resting itself before its fight with the rocks in the Strid. Or perhaps it is recovering from a previous encounter with the geology of this area for we were approaching another angry section of the Wharfe.

Near Burnsall on the Dales Way Wilfred Scar
Approaching the tourist honey pot of Burnsall The first sights of limestone at Wilfred Scar

After the wide and quiet section we leave the river and follow a track that leads to a metalled road and bridge over Fir Beck. From here we followed signs to Appletreewick. After crossing a small field we are back at riverside where we encounter the next angry section, a small rocky gorge which causes the river to rush for a short while. Soon after the river calms again as we pass, at a distance, the village of Appletreewick and walk to Burnsall. This village is another busy little tourist hive, very pretty, but we have seen it many times before so make haste through the village and its visitors (terrorists, as Yorkshire folk call them) to start our final section of the day to Grassington. This final section of the walk features one distinctive change in the geology of the Dales Way. Just after Burnsall their are two scars at riverside. These, Wilfred Scar and Loup Scar are not of the dark gritstone type seen in the gorges downstream. These rocky outcrops are limestone white a feature we will be seeing a lot of until we cross over the watersheds. Soon after we cross the lovely suspension footbridge near Hebden and walk along the bank for a further half hour into Grassington via Linton Falls. The first day is done, not an extreme walking test for experienced long distance walkers, but a thouroughly enjoyable days walking. The walking took us just under seven hours without ever rushing. It was a perfect first day and after resting at our splendid accommodation we went out and enjoyed a meal and a few beers in the village as reward.

Continue the walk

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